Michigan Wasps: Pictures and Identification Tips

picture of a Smokey-winged Beetle Bandit, Michigan wasps

This brief overview of Michigan wasps focuses more on the types of wasps found in the state. The green Wasps button leads to addition pictures and information covering a larger variety of species in each of the types presented for individuals interested in more wasp identification help.

Fortunately, a very small percentage of state wasps are considered dangerous stinging wasps. In fact, most are considered beneficial insects because they prey on common insect pests. Take for example the Smokey-winged Beetle Bandit pictured at the top of the page. For the past two decades, Michigan forests have been invaded by the Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle that uses ash trees as its larval host. Large infestations wrecked havoc on stands of ash trees all around Michigan. Enter the Smokey-winged Beetle Bandit, a solitary wasp that uses beetles, including the Emerald Ash Borer as larval food. They have been used as a biological control agent against the Emerald Ash Borer, and therefore, they are sometimes fairly easy to find. It’s too late for the ash trees in the state already lost. However, new growth may have this mighty mini-wasp in its corner.

picture of an American pelecinid-wasp
Another beetle fighter is the strange looking American Pelecinid Wasp (Pelecinus polyturator ). The all black females can grow over two inches in length, and as the picture highlights, it’s mostly abdomen that is specialized to dig into the ground, find June beetle grub hosts and lay eggs. Unless you are a June Beetle, there’s no worry because they do not have stingers. They fly during the peak of the summer.

picture of a Double-banded Scoliid wasp,  Michigan wasps
Keeping with the black and white, we hunt beetles, wasp narrative, now consider the Double-banded Scoliid, another helpful wasp. It’s one of four or five Scoliid wasps found in the state. They fly around residential areas during the summer season looking for beetle grubs in lawns and the soil. The stark black and white coloration makes it fairly easy to identify.

picture of a Blackjacket, Michigan waspst
With over a dozen native yellowjacket species, Michigan is truly yellowjacket central. Some, like the Southern Yellowjacket have a range limited to a small area in the southern part of the state. Others such as the Blackjacket in the picture, restrict their range to the state’s boreal forests. The Blackjacket is a ground nesting wasp, and due to the black and white pattern, it might be mistaken for the Bald-faced Hornet, the largest and most dangerous of the state’s aerial yellowjackets. Bald-faced Hornets build large nests, often close to residential areas. So seeing a large black and white wasp in the yard would more often than not be an indication of them and not the Blackjacket.

picture of a Common Aerial Yellowjacket
Common Aerial Yellowjackets also can be found throughout most of the state. As the name suggests, they build aerial nests. Most experts suggest they are not as dangerous as the Bald-faced Hornets, however, it’s never a good idea to mess with a yellowjacket nest.

picture of a Northern Paper Wasp
Paper wasps also pose potential problems around residential areas because they build their umbrella shaped nests around porches. Typically they are not aggressive, but when the wasps sense the nest is in danger, they attack in groups. Removing the nest as soon as the queen begins building it is the best proactive measure to take. In instances where the nest is populated by a large number of wasps, it’s probably best to call a professional exterminator. The picture shows a Northern Paper Wasp, probably the most widespread in Michigan.

picture of a Fraternal Potter Wasp, Michigan wasps
Potter and Mason wasps are related to the more dangerous vespids in the state. Like the Smokey-winged Beetle Bandit, most are solitary wasps that pose no problems. Many of the literally dozens of different species found in Michigan have black and white bodies like the Smokey-winged Beetle Bandit. Identifying most of them is a task best left to entomologists. A few of the Potter wasp species are fairly easy to identify due to the enlarged waist-like appendage between the thorax and abdomen, as shown in the picture of the Fraternal Potter wasp. Their range extends across most of the state, and depending on the area, they fly from late spring through early fall.

picture of Weevil Wasp
The Crabronidae family consists of many familiar wasps with common names such as sand wasps, beewolves and square headed wasps. They are related to bees, except of course for the fact that bees evolved to be vegetarians and the wasps in this family prey on other insects.

Weevil wasps, like the one in the picture, might not be the most commonly identified species, primarily because so many small wasps have black bodies with yellow stripes. A closer look at the picture shows the wasp also has a constriction at the top of the abdomen. That’s a good field identification clue for the many different Weevil wasps in the state.

picture a thread-waisted wasp, Yellow-legged Mud Dauber
Thread-waisted wasps might be some of the easiest wasps to identify by family because of the long, thin body part that separated the thorax and abdomen. Many of the medium sized wasps appear in residential areas around the state, making them some of the most easily seen wasps around the home and garden. Their common names such as mud daubers and digger wasps reflect their nest building techniques. The picture shows a Yellow-legged Mud Dauber.

picture a Katydid wasp, Michigan wasps
The Sphex genus is best known for the above average size digger wasps. Two of the dozen native specie, the great-golden Digger Wasp and the Great Black Digger Wasp, have a coast to coast distribution. Michigan also has the Katydid Wasp. The brown legs are the best field identification clue.